January 7, 2024

Homily on the Disposition of Saint John the Baptist (St. Luke of Simferopol)

 On the Disposition of the Disciples of John the Baptist and of John the Baptist Himself

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on May 8, 1948- Saturday of Bright Week)

"After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized" (John 3:22). He did not baptize Himself, but His disciples baptized. "Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized. For John had not yet been thrown into prison. Then there arose a dispute between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purification. And they came to John and said to him, 'Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified — behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!'" (John 3:23-26).

What were they arguing about? It is not said exactly in the Holy Scriptures, but it is not difficult to guess from the words that followed. The Jews who were baptized by the disciples of Jesus spoke about this to John's disciples, and a dispute arose between them, a dispute about which baptism was more important, more holy. We conclude about this from the words with which John’s disciples addressed their teacher: “He about whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him.”

Why did they say that everyone was coming to Him? After all, many went to John and received baptism from him. This is an exaggeration in words: they were so excited that more than one of their favorite teachers was baptizing that it seemed to them as if everyone had gone to Jesus, everyone had left John.

The words of John's disciples breathed with jealousy and envy of Jesus and His glorification, since He attracted more and more disciples. This jealous and envious feeling of John's disciples was clearly reflected in their words addressed to John.

And how did John answer them? Was he himself involved in such feelings of jealousy and envy? Oh no, not at all: he was immeasurably superior to his disciples and answered them with words full of deep humility. He said: “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven” (John 3:27).

We need to concentrate our thoughts on these words and remember them well, for there are many people who crave a high position, high deeds, a great destiny, and strive only for glory.

There are many priests who dream and see to it of becoming bishops. There are many worldly people who are painfully jealous of the people placed at the helm of government. There are many people who envy those who stand high above everyone else in their deep intelligence and important, deep scientific work; they envy them and strive to be the same. But they themselves have no mind. “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.”

Every person who stands for a great cause must be called from heaven, from above; not only the bishop appointed by God to shepherd the people of God, but also all the great political figures whose names are noted in history; and all the great figures of science, philosophy, art - all of them are marked by a calling from God. And only those who are truly marked do great things; and those who of themselves climb to higher positions are capable only of small things.

“You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled” (John 3:28–29).

Among the ancient Jews, the bridegroom's friend played a prominent role during the marriage ceremony. Saint John called himself a friend of the Bridegroom - the Bridegroom of the Church of Christ - the Lord Jesus Christ. He says that he rejoices with great joy, seeing the glory and honor of his beloved Bridegroom, and rejoices that this joy has been fulfilled. He does not envy, he rejoices for Christ: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). I need to leave, I need to get out of the way, bow lower and lower before Christ.

“He must increase, but I must decrease. He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all” (John 3:30–31). Haven’t you heard the words of Jesus when He directly said that He came down from heaven, and John, not yet hearing these words, knew by the Holy Spirit that this was the true Son of God, the Lamb, destined to be slaughtered for the salvation of the world. He knew that the words coming from the Divine lips of Jesus were immeasurably higher than his own words, although you know that the Lord called him the greatest of all the prophets who came before him, and yet the Forerunner placed his words immeasurably lower than the Divine words of the Savior Himself. He said that he was from the earth, and not from heaven; he did not speak Divine words, like Jesus, but spoke as one who was from the earth, although these were words inspired by the Holy Spirit. Such is the humility of John.

He, Christ, “has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true” (John 3:32–33).

Again you see the exaggeration in John’s words: of course, he could not say that no one accepted the Lord; for all the apostles accepted Him, and many who believed in the Lord Jesus accepted Him. John grieved that the mass of the Jewish people did not accept their Savior. It seemed to him that no one accepted the Lord Jesus, and he spoke about this with great sorrow. You see how huge, how immeasurable the difference is in the disposition towards the Lord Jesus Christ of the disciples of John and John himself. You see that the disciples were imbued with zeal for the glory of John, their teacher, and not for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. You see that these people, who undoubtedly stood at a very high spiritual height, were susceptible to a pernicious feeling of envy. You see at the same time the enormous spiritual height of John and his immeasurable humility. This contrast emphasizes how bad envy is and how high, immeasurably high is humility, the humility that John the Baptist showed.

Let us try with all our might to tear out the roots of envy and jealousy from our hearts and with all our hearts let us strive for what John the Baptist possessed to such a great extent, for only those who are meek and humble like the Lord Jesus Christ Himself will enter the Kingdom of God. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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